Thursday, 8 March 2007

Pleasure, Pain and Play.

Games are similar to other media forms such as television and books in various ways, such as sound effects and a story line. However, games are also very different to other forms of media as they offer distinct aesthetics that are located in the play itself. There are three theories into the aesthetics of play. Reward, flow and iteration.


Clearly defined rewards such as more life, better weapons and progress to the next level keep the player interested. The type of reward is actually irrelevant as ‘video games that do something to make the player feel good will be played again’ (Loftus. E, and Loftus. G, 1983, pg. 14); meaning that rewards make the player feel good about themselves and their skills at playing the game. There are four types of rewards. Glory, Sustenance, Access and Facility.

Rewards of glory; the pleasure of the player due to factors such as high scores.

Rewards of sustenance; character maintenance; which could include more health and new weapons.

Rewards of access; progression to new levels, locations and resources available in the game.

Rewards of facility; the enhancement or new abilities of the character; such as new skills.

The game I have played in order to analyse the three aesthetics of play is Samorost 2. In this game you have to solve a number of puzzles in order to progress to new areas and finally save your dog.

The rewards I gained were rewards of glory – I found pleasure in simply being able to complete the game, rewards of access, which was when I finally managed to progress to new areas of the game and rewards of facility – where I picked up objects, which in turn helped me progress. These rewards reinforced my playing as each time I nearly gave up, I would gain a reward which spurred me on.

At times I did feel flow within the game. When I was thinking hard of what I could do to go to the next level, I would concentrate solely on the game and time seemed to fly by. I was actively engaged and had clear goals of what I wanted to achieve.

Iteration played a big part in this game. Each time I tried a sequence that didn’t work, I would play the same sequence but change a little bit of it. Almost repeating my earlier actions but changing one small thing in hope that it would work.

From these examples it is possible to see all three aesthetics of play that encouraged me to play on. Either though I didn’t find Samorost 2 very fun to play, I still sat at my computer for a length of time until I completed it.

Word Count: 450


Loftus, E. F. and Loftus, G. R. (1983) Mind at Play: The Psychology of Video Games, USA: Basic Books, Inc.

Humo Ludens

Huizinga (1950, pg. 4) believes that ‘play is based on the manipulation of certain images, on a certain ‘imagination’ of reality’. Simply, he believes that when we play a game, we enter a different state of mind, separate from real life. This is what he called the ‘magic circle’. The magic circle is the game’s special frame, which can be physical or psychological in which different rules apply. The magic circle has been described as a ‘barrier’ or a ‘membrane’ (Castronova, 2005, pg. 147) that separates the real world from the gaming world through fixed boundaries.

When playing a game, players adopt a ‘lusory attitude’. This is the magic circle from the player’s perspective. Players must accept the boundaries of a game in order to make game possible. By acknowledging the boundaries, players can enter into the state of play in the safety of the magic circle.

For example, in a game, players may be a thief, with the goal to steal as many cars as possible. The magic circle and the lusory attitude within the game makes it safe for players to adopt this role in the game, but after playing, to realise that this is not what is acceptable in reality.

The game I played to illustrate this point was ‘Manhunt’. This is an extremely violent game in which you play a character who has been saved from death row in order to work for ‘the director’. During the game you perform many gruesome killings using a number of weapons.

I entered the magic circle, by accepting the boundaries of the game. There was a new sense of time and space. The game is only limited to the screen and movements and actions of the character are limited.

The lusory attitude I adopted within the game was of a violent murderer, where I killed whoever I needed to; using weapons that I needed to by creeping up behind my victim. However, once I have finished playing the game and was not in the gaming state, I did not adopt this attitude any more and went back to real life.

This example shows the extent to which the magic circle and lusory attitude takes place in games and that it is essential to adopt these boundaries.

Word Count: 377


Castronova, E. (2005) Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games, USA: The University of Chicago Press Ltd.

Huizinga, J. (1950) Humo Ludens: a study of the play element in culture, Boston: Beacon Press.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007


The definition of rhetoric (Collins English Dictionary and Thesaurus, 2006, pg.653) is

1. art of effective speaking or writing. 2. artificial or exaggerated language.’

This can be applied to many aspects of life, as rhetoric is not restricted to texts. Rhetoric is persuasive language, which can be very upfront or very subtle in which the speaker/writer attempts to persuade the viewer of certain values and beliefs. It can be present in texts such as newspapers, or even the clothing and makeup of an individual.

Rhetoric can also be present in digital games. Either the rhetoric representations of a game, or the rhetoric within the games themselves.

To study rhetoric in the representations of a game you have to look at what is being said and how it is said. E.g. A digital game trailer. The rhetoric could be the music playing in a trailer and what particular scenes have been chosen to show.

To study the rhetoric within the game itself you can look at the characters of the game, their clothing, even the environment in which the game is taking place in.

Rhetoric in ‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’.

Representations of the game.
In the trailer, it starts with the character being told that his job is to ‘take these guys out’ and then a series of scenes follow which include shootings, fast cars, prostitutes, car jacking and running away from the police.

Representations within the game.
The clothing of the main character is casual, almost gangster. The setting is Vice City, where areas are known ‘gang territories’ in which you try to take over.

Objective: ‘Finish off’ people, earn money through dodgy jobs, take over the gangs of Vice City.
Emphasis: Shooting, car jacking, getting away from the police.
Value: Fight back, don’t follow the law.
Rhetoric: It’s OK to shoot people, sleep with prostitutes, car jack and run away from the law.

So, the rhetorics of the game ‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’ may be frowned upon. However it has been argued by game developers that the representations of games do not reflect their own personal values and beliefs and those of the players and so this should be taken into account by critics when blaming a game for a particular event in the media as this could create a moral panic.

Word Count: 385


Collins English Dictionary and Thesaurus (2006) 2nd edn, Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers.

Monday, 5 March 2007

What is a game?

Game designer Celia Pearce, cited in Carr et al. (2006, pg.5) defines a game as ‘a structured framework for spontaneous play’ that consists of characteristics that are true for all types of game.

However Wittgenstein argues that, instead of there being characteristics consistent to all games, he believes the concept of ‘game’ is ‘a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing’ (cited in Aaron, 1963). He describes this further by the concept of ‘family resemblance’. Members of a family share some characteristics yet differ in others.

To explain this concept, I am going to apply this theory to a few games that I have played. ‘Doom II’, ‘The SIMS’ and ‘Need for Speed Underground’.


‘Doom II’ is a single player game in which the aim is to kill all the monsters and to progress through each area/level without dying. Because only one person is playing there is not really an element of competitiveness.

‘The SIMS’ is mainly a single player game but a second player can be introduced. However, there is still not an element of competitiveness as the game doesn’t have any challenges for the players to challenge each other.

‘Need for Speed Underground’ is also a single player game where other players can be introduced. It is very competitive as the players are racing against each other in order to complete the race fist.


‘Doom II’ involves the character running through rooms and shooting the monsters before they shoot you and finding the exit. I believe this involves a lot of skill as good control skills are important in order to shoot and move quickly.

‘The SIMS’ doesn’t really involve any skills as it is a slow moving game and doesn’t require good control skills.

‘Need for Speed Underground’ is a fast moving game and also requires good control skills as you are racing a car at high speeds against other cars through a busy city.

'Doom II' - not competitive, skill
'The SIMS' - not competitive, no skill
'Need for Speed Underground' - competitive, skill

These examples contribute to Wittgenstein’s theory as they show the overlapping of similarities and also the differences between games. Wittgenstein expands on this idea by explaining the concept of ‘game’ as being like rope made of twisted fibre, as there are so many different characteristics that make up a game.

Word Count: 390


Carr, D. et al (2006) Computer Games: Text, Narrative and Play, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Aaron, R. (1965) Wittgenstein’s Theory Of Universals [Online]. Retrieved on 15th February 2007 from